Boise National Forest ©Darla S. Hoffmann
Food, wine, walking, hiking, and nature are central to our vacation plans. Having heard great things about Boise, we booked a 4-day trip. We knew it would offer some of the things we love to do, but it exceeded our expectations.
We stayed at The Inn at 500 Capitol in the heart of downtown. The location was perfect as we could easily walk most everywhere. The hotel was clean with friendly staff, and our room had a grand balcony for coffee and nightcaps. Our modus operandi is to drop our stuff and find an interesting place for a drink and a bite. In search of a destination, we strolled with ease, as a portion of 8th Street is closed off to vehicles. We were ecstatic to view the streets dedicated to foodies with plenty of room to walk and wander.
Tomato Basil Fondue & Grilled Cheese at Fork ©Darla Hoffmann
The highly recommended Fork is a fabulous stop. The large semi-circle bar invited us to belly-up. The place was full of good energy between the charismatic bartender and the lively vacationers sitting at the bar. We ordered a bottle of the Provocateur Pinot Noir with the House-Smoked King Salmon Board and the Tomato Basil Fondue & Grilled Cheese. Both food choices were unique and delectable; I hope to replicate them at home. The building that houses Fork was the old Boise City National Bank. If you take the stairs to the bottom, you can still view the old vault.
Barbacoa Grill on Bobwhite Ct ©Darla S. Hoffmann
A favorite of the locals and tourists alike, Barbacoa celebrates the influence of Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil. They use an open-fire grilling process to pay tribute to ranchers and cowboys. With ornate decor and the ambiance of a high-end nightclub, every seat in the house was occupied. We were thankful we made reservations. At the entrance, you will pass through a spectacular tunnel of wine bottles leading into an enormous indoor dining space with two bars and an outdoor patio.
Leku Ona Restaurant on the Basque Block, ©Darla S. Hoffmann
Family-owned and true to its roots, Leku Ona is located on the Basque Block in downtown Boise. The Basque country is a small region between France and Spain. The owner and chef of the restaurant were born and raised there and are passionate about the culinary arts. Leku Ona has indoor and outdoor dining options with a medieval-style aura. The menu is centered around grilled meats that are true to their traditional cuisine. We popped into Leku Ona for an appetizer since we had dinner reservations elsewhere. However, judging by the flavors from the Croquetas we ordered, I am all in with my recommendation. We paired it with a Syrah from Snake River Winery, which was a lovely fit.
The sister restaurant of Fork, Alavita, is extraordinary in fine Italian dining. The spirit of the place is like an Italian Cafe with street seating out front and fresh pasta made daily. We ordered the Burrata appetizer followed by Tagliatelle and could taste the freshness in every bite. We paired our meal with the Pasquale Peliserro Nebbiolo. When you go, make reservations and be on time, as they will most likely have a waiting list.
Goldy’s Breakfast spot, ©Darla Hoffmann
As soon as we stepped into Goldy’s, we knew this was a town favorite. The place filled up within minutes, and the staff was bustling about taking orders. It’s a tiny, bijou restaurant with plenty of seating. However, you may need to duck your head while walking about. I ordered the Ciabatta BLT, which was by far the best BLT I’ve ever had. My husband got Trav’s famous breakfast burrito which was divine as well. Breakfast at Goldy’s is a great way to start your day. If you have to wait for a seat, I recommend you do.
Cottonwood Grille, Patio on Greenbelt ©Darla Hoffmann
Cottonwood Grille is a hometown staple and lived up to its reputation. The inside dining area reminded me of a ski lodge with a long wood bar and a cozy, casual setting. We sat outside, which overlooked the Boise Greenbelt, and admired the cyclists while enjoying the intimacy. We ordered crab cakes and the Sauteed Idaho Trout, which I had wanted since we arrived. It paired beautifully with the Ken Wright Cellar’s Pinot Noir. Everything was delicious, and I can see why this place brings in the locals.
Impromptu lunch at The Wydler was a sensational surprise. A trendy market-like atmosphere with fresh ingredients and really great pizza. They serve fun, creative cocktails, and the staff is willing to share their favorite menu items with you. We ordered the Crispy Pepperoni Pizza with a 2019 Stoller Family Estate Pinot Noir bottle from Dundee Hills.
Dinner at Chandlers Prime Steak & Fine Seafood inside the Hotel 43 on Grove St. ©Darla S. Hoffmann
Everyone kept telling us to go to Chandlers. However, we kept steering away from it because it is located inside a hotel. Even so, multiple people called it the best restaurant in Boise. After full persuasion, we made reservations. We walked in and, immediately gave each other an approving nod. Live jazz, dim lighting, and a pre-dinner drink at the bar set the stage. There was a good mix of the after-work crowd and tourists. We were seated at a window table for dinner and started with the Tower of Tuna. Dinner was two perfectly exquisite Filet Mignons, baked Idaho potatoes, and sauteed mushrooms. We paired it with the 2018 Chateau Haut-Segottes from St. Emillion. We were thrilled we didn’t pass this restaurant up.
History & Culture
Basque Center on the Basque Block ©Darla S. Hoffmann
You can spend much of your mornings walking around and taking in the sights like The Idaho State Capital building and grounds. Freak Alley Gallery is another free tourist attraction to enjoy. The alley’s walls are covered on both sides with murals and graffiti-inspired artwork. Artists create new masterpieces every year, making the alley ever-changing and growing. The Boise community keeps its artwork alive by fundraising and donations.
A further complementary source of entertainment is Basque Block. The Block is full of history, restaurants, and culture endlessly preserved and alive. Immigration in the late 1800s brought Basque people to the area for mining, ranching sheep-herding, and operating boarding houses. I recommend taking a guided or self-walking tour of the Block to learn about their heritage.
Freak Alley on 9th St. ©Darla S. Hoffmann
There is no room for guilt when eating and drinking in Boise because there are ample options for outdoor excursions. Boise is a hiker’s paradise; we picked Freddy’s Stack Rock Trail with so many choices and little time. The scenery will not disappoint. The 11.7-mile hike is an out-and-back trail with a short-mile loop encompassing the stack rocks midway. There is a 1351 elevation gain, which is moderately challenging for the average hiker.
Freddy’s Stack Rock Hike, at the halfway point loop ©Darla S. Hoffmann.
You will discover Bruneau Dunes State Park, about an hour south of downtown Boise. The drive is somewhat mundane, but it is a beguiling stop. We were there in July, and it was pretty hot, so I recommend going early. There are several hikes within the park, including the small dunes and the big dunes. We started to hike the big dunes hike, roughly 6 miles, but I have to admit we felt like we were in the movie Deliverance. It was very secluded, and the ranger at the entrance seemed a bit concerned about us. We opted to turn back and just hike up one of the dunes where there were a few people sandboarding. I thought it was a cool place, but maybe not during the heat of the summer.
Bruneau Dunes State Park ©Darla Hoffmann
Finally, renting bikes to ride along the Boise Riverwalk is a must. The path has picturesque views of the mountains, the river, and charming neighborhood homes. You can also get a close-up look at Boise State University’s blue football field. Our hotel offered complementary bikes for guests, so we took advantage of that. The only issue was the bikes were one size, so my 6’3 husband wasn’t as excited about the trek as I was. I recommend renting bikes where adjustments can be made to duly suit each person. You will not want to stop once you get going, so do it right and enjoy the ride.
Boise Riverwalk Greenbelt ©Darla S. Hoffmann